Shake ‘n Bake, the working mum’s best friend

Shake 'n Bake packageOkay, yes, there’s a theme going on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, though this may be the final instalment for a while. As regular readers will know, I’ve been sharing some recent ruminations over household products that used to be part of everyday life for pretty much all of us back in the 1960s and ’70s, and are now rather less so. Two days ago, it was Tang; yesterday, Turtle Wax. Today, I believe we should talk about Shake ‘n Bake.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that Shake ‘n Bake, like Tang, and like Turtle Wax, is still with us. But have you bought or used any of those products recently? And if you have, how long was it since the previous time that you bought or used them? I’m guessing not many people are going to say, “C’mon, I make Shake ‘n Bake chicken a few times a month! It’s better than fried!” (As for Tang and Turtle Wax – well, I rest my case.)

So yeah, Shake ‘n Bake. Remember how, when it was new back in the 1960s (the late ’60s, I believe), its main promotional line was that it was “better than fried”? The theory being that fried chicken can be greasy, whereas Shake ‘n Bake chicken is not. Here’s none other than the warm and fuzzy June Lockhart (the mum everybody loved on Lassie and Lost in Space) to tell us so:

And I mean, if you can’t believe June Lockhart, who can you believe?

A little later in the lifetime of Shake ‘n Bake, the advertising was tweaked to focus more on how easy it was to make. Remember the ads with the mum (or grandma) in the kitchen, showing the urchins how easy it was to just “shake – and bake!” So easy, in fact, that the urchins could help out, and loudly declaim about this accomplishment when dad, or grandpa, did what dads and grandpas did back then: compliment the little lady on her fried chicken. (Because of course the male of the household would never have done such a thing as make fried chicken.) “And I (or we) helped!” they would announce. Here, let me refresh your memory:

One thing that I find interesting about that ad, and one other one like it that I found, is that all the characters have deep southern accents. So while the primary emphasis is on how easy Shake ‘n Bake is to make, more subtly we still get the message that it’s like real fried chicken – a southern speciality, of course.

Personally, I like the ease-of-preparation theme, because that’s what made Shake ‘n Bake popular here at the Manse when I was growing up. I am very proud to say that my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, was one of the first mums I knew to work full-time – she was very modern in that respect. (And we four kids suffered not a whit for it; in fact, I consider her a role model.) But it was the farthest thing from easy for her, working as a high-school teacher, dealing with the responsibilities of being a minister’s wife, and raising four kids. (I’ve written about her miraculous accomplishments here.) You can imagine how much she felt like whipping up fried chicken – or anything else, for that matter – from scratch when she got home about 5 p.m. after a long day of teaching. So Shake ‘n Bake was an absolutre godsend for her, and we had Shake ‘n Bake chicken frequently for supper. Fortunately for everybody, in the early years at least we kids quite liked it, so (for once) there wasn’t a lot of complaining from ungrateful young Sedgwicks around the dinner table.

Shake 'n Bake pork chops(A later product, Shake ‘n Bake for pork chops, did not go over quite so well. As I recall, it brought on the usual ungrateful-wretch complaints from us. And hey – what on earth was the thinking behind Shake ‘n Bake for hamburger patties? Fortunately I don’t think we ever tried that at the Manse.)

But anyway, I just wanted to say that in my view, good old retro Shake ‘n Bake was in fact a forward-looking product as far as working women went. Maybe it even went a little way to them feeling like, as the saying back in the ’70s went, they could have it all (i.e. career, success, family).

Do you suppose that’s the message the sharpie advertising types were trying to get across via June Lockhart and the southern belles? I have to say that somehow I doubt it. Ha! They missed a golden opportunity.

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